Thursday, April 22, 2010
Please, if you’re an atheist and cannot stand to read even a simple anecdote acknowledging God humorously, click away from here for your own sanity. Otherwise, don’t claim I didn’t warn you. :)
As I’ve explained to my wife many times most mechanics believe in God. We pray all the time. Any professional mechanic who insists they have never silently closed their eyes and thought ‘please Lord let this thing run right’ after endless tedious hours of work with sometimes thousands of dollars riding in the balance makes other atheists pale in comparison. Heck, on many jobs I throw in the ‘Twenty-Third Psalm’ happily for good measure. ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death’ is relevant when taking spark plugs out of some Ford disaster prone engines that seize the plug threads, sometimes resulting in hours of labor and special tools to remove the pieces or even taking the heads off. It isn’t because if something bad ends up happening that we wrench-heads blame God. We don’t compare ourselves to soldiers in a foxhole, but like them we take comfort in our heartfelt prayers. On to my anecdote.
I worked on a 1999 Toyota Corolla with 1.8L engine this past week. It came in on a tow truck with blown head gasket and no fuel pressure… not that they needed fuel pressure on a car with no compression but I have to determine all the factors necessary for the Toyota’s return to the road. On this particular engine the timing chain front case along with everything attached around it has to come off before the head can be removed, adding four hard labor hours to the job if you plan on testing the chain and guides with tensioner replacement. I did.
The machine shop I use for engine work needed to repair the head surface but told me all the valves and seats were in first class shape on this dual overhead cam work of art. Great! I hustled back to the shop and began reassembling the engine, skipping the step where I bolt the cams in place and test valve clearance before putting it on the car. After all, no valve placement was disturbed in cleaning and seal replacement so I put the lifters back over the valves in the exact same holes they came out of and got to work. Hours later with engine reassembled after complete fuel system overhaul, including the in tank pump, filter, regulator and new injectors it was time to start the Toyota with scanner hooked up.
It fired right up but was shaky and my scanner’s reading a misfire on #4 cylinder. Immediately, my transgression with not checking the valve clearance off-car smacked into my brain, setting off familiar signs of impending asphyxiation if I didn’t start breathing again. Some radio station is blasting out old rock on the neat sound system while I trudged to the hood area, staring down at my vibrating gem. I’m stringing together Our Father’s, Hail Mary’s, Acts of Contrition, and Twenty-Third Psalms as if my feet stood on the precipice of hell. Yeah, I’m a drama queen sometimes… but only silently when no one’s around. I start reminding myself I still had my health and the family was fine. It was only a car… uh huh… right.
I shut it down, pulled the valve cover off and sure enough a #4 cylinder exhaust valve had no clearance between cam and lifter. This means it’s open all the time - therefore no compression. I confirm the suspicion with my compression gauge as a dark cloud forms over me like that kid in the 'Peanuts' comic strip. It means front case and timing chain removal if I need to unbolt the back cam and put in a corrective lifter for valve clearance on my recalcitrant demon exhaust valve. The string of hours and parts impact flows into my skull, interrupting my inner prayer chant for a moment. I walk away from the Toyota to clear my head and finish other jobs on the schedule, all the time fighting off panic while I rack my brain for another solution.
About this time an old truck pulls up in front and a guy gets out requesting the loan of tools. Not hearing him with the Toyota ringing in my ears I rattle off my no tools loaned policy and turn away. He calls out it’s just a loose cable. I stop, walk back to his truck and ask him to show me. I reinsert his battery cable into the aftermarket post clamp and tighten it. I’ve fixed something and I needed a good deed done. As he happily drives off, I take a deep breath and repair the rest of my work load.
Later, I quit avoiding my mechanical albatross. Instead of disassembling the engine, I decide to make real sure there isn’t something else wrong with other stuff incorporated in the job. No use tearing into it without a clear picture. It’s like when the guy on death row writes a last note before they hook him up to ‘old sparky’. With my prayer chant comforting me, I bolt the valve cover back in place and start the engine. While watching it shake, I keep track of my scanner readings for temperature and sensor readings. I then test the air conditioning which nearly stalls out my shaker. Satisfied the ac, lights, dashboard gauges, etc. are all working correctly, I go out to work the throttle with scanner in hand so I can gauge whether my fuel system work looks okay. I work the throttle manually with my hand a few times while chanting every prayer I still remembered from my youth including the Apostle’s Creed. The engine suddenly smoothed out as if the hand of God reestablished clearance on my woefully tight exhaust valve. That’s not the funny part of this story. That’s the picture me on my knees with my hands clasped in joyous supplication part.
The funny part was the oldies radio station starts playing a string of songs very familiar to me while I’m praying this mechanical miracle isn’t my imagination playing tricks on me. See… I buy singles on Amazon and put together my own mixes of songs. I’m odd that way. Singles I jam together on a CD vary according to my own weird taste. The Toyota radio is blasting out Angel of the Morning, Toto’s Africa, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Night Moves, House of the Rising Sun… you know combinations a station doesn’t normally play… ever. I get the chills. They’re all my singles. I take it as a warning that ‘hey, Sparky, that Toyota ain’t running smooth all because of your expertise’ – just a reminder I fervently acknowledge while the hit parade plays on.
So in conclusion, many times when we look for God’s presence, we find it in some very odd places. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. :)